For 40 years, I lived in a studio apartment, roughly 100 square feet, in Manhattan. The kitchen was lined up against one wall. There was a small four-burner stove and oven and a sink, next to which …
For 40 years, I lived in a studio apartment, roughly 100 square feet, in Manhattan. The kitchen was lined up against one wall. There was a small four-burner stove and oven and a sink, next to which was a dish-drying rack, leaving me little counter space with which to prep. Under the counter sat a miniature refrigerator with a freezer compartment large enough for two ice cube trays and nothing more. I made do.
In the little weekend house I shared with my sister, Janet, the ample kitchen was a delight and a revelation. Little by little, we began stocking it with cookware, appliances and gadgets I never had room for in my apartment. And then, nearly five years ago, we gave up our apartments in the city and moved full-time to Callicoon. Over time, we renovated the kitchen until every 1970s cabinet and appliance had been replaced. I love my kitchen, if one can use that term in regard to a room in their house.
Last year and this, now both fully retired, Janet and I decided to forgo the snow and cold weather months in upstate New York in favor of extended stays in Oaxaca. This winter was our longest time away—four months which we divided between both hotels. Due to the pandemic and lack of returning visitors, in both we were able to get into studios with kitchenettes.
The kitchens at our first hotel, Casa de Los Abuelos, and the second, Las Mariposas, were outfitted differently. The first provided a microwave and coffee machine, but there was no dish rack next to the sink. The second had a dishrack, but no microwave or coffee machine. Neither had an oven, but the first had a four-burner stove and the second had a two-burner stovetop, not totally unlike the hotplate I brought to college.
The pots and pans were thin, lightweight and cheaply made. There were a few pieces of mottled enamelware (used on camping trips in the States) and I wouldn’t trust them for anything but boiling water. The knives, forks and spoons were feather-light and the cooking utensils and equipment, such as sieves and stirring spoons, were shabby.
Preparing for the trip, I had purposely packed and lugged such items as cheese graters; a sturdy wine opener; good, light-weight Japanese chefs and paring knives; and even dried herbs and spices I wanted to have on hand were I to get the urge to cook. Once in Oaxaca, I soon became frustrated with the lack of certain kitchen amenities I was used to. Janet was adamant that she didn’t want to “duplicate our home kitchen at two hotels” with every “necessity” I lacked. But it became clear, when I went to make us an omelet or quesadilla and found the skillet to be subpar, that life would be easier with a few trips to La Violetta, the huge kitchenware store not far from the zocalo, or town square. We made so many trips to the shop that we were soon warmly greeted upon our arrival. “Las hermanas estan aqui! (the sisters are here!).” Eventually, we knew the cashier and salespeople so well that we all went by our first names. We bought Tupperware-like containers in myriad sizes, iced tea and water jugs, weighty flatware, a heavy omelet skillet and a soup/stew pot, a slotted spoon and spatula, sturdier sieves, oven mitts and a dish rack, the later costing a mind-boggling $1.50 in U.S. dollars. Everything was inexpensive, so I was shocked to find, after we sprang for a Black and Decker toaster oven as our final purchase, that we had spent a staggering $600 dollars on kitchenware. True, we were going to be in Oaxaca for four months (and five in the future), and I had begun to enjoy preparing meals for either breakfast or lunch a few times a week, but it was a rude awakening, nonetheless.
Each hotel graciously allowed us to leave storage bins with them filled with the many “necessities” we had purchased, so that they’ll be waiting for us upon our return. We’ll bring the toaster oven and a few other items back and forth between the two hotels, but I’ll no longer feel like I’m “making do.” Though I really could use a second omelet pan...
Pork is popular and eaten in many ways in Oaxaca: roast suckling pig (lechon) turned on a spit, barbecue ribs, chopped and tucked into tacos with grilled pineapple chunks, or covered with a flavorful mole sauce. One day, I found some fresh boneless pork chops at the market and felt for a taste of home. I made pan-seared pork chops American-style.
Brining pork chops for a few hours prior to cooking them makes them moister. It’s easy to do and makes a difference in the finished product.
1 – 1 1/4 pounds (3) boneless pork chops
Salt and pepper
Fine plain breadcrumbs well-seasoned with mixed Italian herbs (see below)
1 tablespoon honey mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Brine for pork chops
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup light brown (or regular granulated) sugar
Place the salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cover with water and mix to dissolve salt and sugar. Add the chops to the liquid, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, preferably six, but less will do as well.
Seasoned bread crumbs
Makes 1 cup
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Add all of the herbs, salt and pepper.
Place in a zip-lock bag, either by the 1/2 cup or all together and freeze for future use, if not using immediately. Defrost for 15 minutes before using.
To cook pork chops, remove chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Use the tablespoon of honey mustard to rub all over the tops, bottoms and sides of chops. Place the seasoned bread crumbs in a shallow bowl and add chops one at a time and cover with bread crumbs, pressing to make them adhere. Set them on a plate covered with wax paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Remove from fridge at least 15 minutes before cooking.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When it’s very hot, add the chops and cook for four minutes without moving, until they are golden brown on the first side. Carefully flip them and cook for an additional three minutes. This cooking time will produce chops that are a touch pink inside and very moist. Remove from the skillet and let rest, covered with aluminum foil, for five minutes. Serve.